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Tim Spalding of LibraryThing posts the intro to a talk he gave at the ALA in which he takes on Michael Gorman’s trashing of Knowledge 2.0. Tim challenges Gorman’s starting point. Herewith that starting point:

“Human beings learn, essentially, in only two ways. They learn from experience—the oldest and earliest type of learning—and they learn from people who know more than they do.”

No, says Tim, we also learn by conversation…

Tim in a footnote takes me to task for not acknowledging in Everything Is Miscellaneous that, while digitization has “kicked things up a notch,” the lessons are old ones. In general, I think that’s right. I do tend to believe that the Web touches us so deeply because it more clearly expresses what we’ve known all along. That was the point of Small Pieces Loosely Joined . [Tags: ]

3 Responses to “Knowledge as a conversation”

  1. on 27 Jun 2007 at 10:47 amNathan


    I am glad to hear you say this. FYI, I brought up some of your ideas on the NGC4LIB (Next Generation Catalog for libraries) listserve and said the following about your ideas re: Aristotle (there was quite a bit of conversation after this). This is what I said.

    The thing is that I suspect Weinberger has fallen prey to a naïve reading of Aristotle. There is a sense of course in which Aristotle believed in “one truth”, but I think it is a bit more complex. Evidently, Aristotle explicitly talked about the possibility of some pieces (of the whole) being “part this, part that” (i.e. “both-and”). Therefore, I believe his idea of taxonomies and their representations of reality are not necessarily purely linear, top-down taxonomies, but are actually a complex interrelated web, deriving from a common center. In other words, there could be a center (the “uncaused cause”, for example) that branches out in every direction with lots of interconnections among the branches (heck, make it 3-D as well). In this model, everything would have its “place” in one sense, but that place would be defined most accurately as the relationships that do exist (with the concept of hierarchy included in there somehow) and the possible relationships that could potentially exist via human creativity, etc. (some couldn’t exist, no matter how hard we try). In other words, just because something is related to the world in definite ways does not mean that it only has one possible function or can only be labeled in just one particular way. There should be no concern over “tidy, *non-overlapping* boxes” which stifle us here – the overlapping is, in fact, immense.

    With his logical syllogisms, Aristotle obviously had some purely logical, linear thoughts – and they are thoughts that I think a lot of us might find we could share in certain contexts. Still, I don’t this precludes something like the above (perhaps he himself said something like this, I do not know).

    In other words, reality is not infinitely malleable, but has boundaries. Even Weinberger himself admits that reality can not be carved up in just any way – though sometimes he seems to mitigate this by some of his statements. For example, Weinberger says “How we organize the world is a deep issue and we are just not going to agree on it. There is no single way of organizing the world. There wasn’t for Plato, there can’t be for Dewey”. But in my mind the real question is not: “Can we determine one perfect way of organizing the world?”. Rather the practical question is “Can we not agree on some boundaries that are not necessarily perfect (Aristotle, according to Weinberger: “Everything is perfectly ordered and ordered by perfect definitions”) but are *still meaningful, make good practical sense, and hence, responsibly educate?”*

    So in short, I suspect that in some ways Aristotle is a far more complex and nuanced thinker than you give him credit for (by the way, I am no huge Aristotle fan, nor am I an expert).

    In any case, you can look up the whole conversation on Google: “Aristotle, ‘Everything is Miscellaneous’ and the library’s educative function”.

  2. on 30 Jun 2007 at 9:36 amDavid Weinberger

    Nathan, thanks for the thoughtful comment.

    Aristotle is a complex, nuanced thinker. He was enough of a scientist to recognize that life is very, very complex. Yet, there are also elements of true metaphysical beauty, purity, simplicity and order in what he says. So, while there are ten categories by which should understand things (which adds a lot of needed complexity), there are ten and only ten, and one category is singled out as charactertizing the thing’s very being. Aristotle’s principle of identity identifies the thing’s being and meaning (inseparably) with characteristics that have to differentiate it perfectly and perfectly knowably. So, while Aristotle as a scientist recognizes the complexity of the world, Aristotle as a metaphysician (it seems to me) insists on their being a single, perfectly differentiable order.

    As for my seeming to imply that all ways of ordering the world are equally good: No. There are indefinite many ways that are right (are true, work), but it is definitely possible to make mistakes. And some ways of ordering are better than others, given our purposes and our starting points. In fact, we come up with various orderings precisely because the world reveals itself differently to us depending on our purpose. As I say somewhere in the book, since order emerges based on our interest, the single order that our culture has looked for would only emerge if we approached the world without any interests…which is not a possibility.

    The fact that there are many orders doesn’t mean we can choose whichever one we like at the moment or can educate our children any which way equally. Mendeleev’s standard periodic table reveals important relationships among the elements, helping to explain why elements have the properties they do. If I were teaching chem, I’d use that table. But I’d also briefly introduce a couple of others so that the students don’t get all superstitious about Mendeleev’s table, as if it were the _single_ representation of how the elements are ordered. There is a whole lot of Aristotelianism in how we generally introduce students to the Medeleev’s table!

  3. on 10 Jul 2007 at 6:44 amNathan


    Thank you for the thoughtful reply. Will digest…